The 11th and 12th chapters of Matthew’s gospel, which we read at Mass this last week or so, describe the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee.
Not only do the Pharisees begin to oppose him and plot to put him to death, but the towns where he’s been–Capernaum, Corazin–seem to forget him. Those chapters end with another source of opposition that may surpise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to misunderstand him. It’s a dark part of Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus answers this opposition in chapter 13 in a series of parables, which we’re reading these days at Mass. He begins with the parable of the sower sowing his seed. The seed doesn’t always fall on good ground, he reminds his disciples. Sometimes it falls on the path where it quickly dries up– like the towns that welcome him enthusiastically and soon forget him.
The parable of the weeds and the wheat points to enemies who want to poison the power and beauty of his words and deeds because of their own claims. The Pharisees did that.
The kingdom of God comes in smallness. It’s like the mustard seed, not a full grown tree. You can miss it, a treasure hidden in a field that you may discover almost accidentally. Maybe Jesus’ own extended family in Nazareth still saw him as just the little boy they knew before and could not appreciate him now. We underestimate small things and what they can grow to be.
But the kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant in search of fine pearls. You have to keep searching for it all your life. You can’t give up that search. Keep looking, hoping searching.
Jesus concludes his teaching with the parable of the net cast into the sea that catches fish of every kind, good and bad. At the end of time, the net will be dragged to shore and the good will be separated from the bad.
His parables are about the real world, the world Jesus experienced. They also give us a good template to look at the world we live in, which is not far from his.